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Sexual Harassment in Schools: The Urgency Of Revolutionized Sex Education

Credit: 'Let's talk consent/Drama Queens

ACCRA, Dec 10 2018 (IPS) - 14-year-old Fatima sat opposite me, a defiance to her body language, yet a vulnerability that made me want to tell her it was okay to cry. She was telling me how for the past year she had dropped out of the school theatre club, had no interest in Physics anymore, which used to be her favourite subject, and had no friends. Fatima [not her real name] had been labeled the ‘bad girl’ in her class.

This meant that boys frequently lied that they had had sexual encounters with her, and they intruded her private space, forcibly touching her breasts or spanking her buttocks as she passed by. It also meant that the girls in her class judged her, other-ed her and placed her in the rank of ‘The kind of girl not to be’. She became the marker by which they measured their ‘unspoiled’ virtues.  Teenagers can be vicious. They are reflections of adults after all.

The labeled girl is often hit with an onslaught of ‘petitions’ for sex or sexual activity from boys and most of these ‘petitions’ are violent. They often end up in sexual assault or rape, as happened to Fatima.

One thing that strikes me at every high school I visit is how each time, there are designated ‘bad girls’. ‘Bad girls’ thus labeled mostly because of false rumors spread by boys in class that they are ‘easy.’ The notion of ‘easiness’ suggests yet another girl has managed to be ‘conquered’, language patriarchy teaches boys.

The labeled girl is often hit with an onslaught of ‘petitions’ for sex or sexual activity from boys and most of these ‘petitions’ are violent. They often end up in sexual assault or rape, as happened to Fatima. At just fourteen, she had been raped by a boy in her class. At just fourteen, she had learnt too early how she will be shamed and blamed for rape.  At just fourteen, the boy would learn that he could be violent and get away with it.

This incident probably reminded her in a violent way something she had probably been hearing all her life: Being a girl in this world meant you were the second-class citizen. Your body was not yours. Girls are not equal to boys.

She probably heard this message in Ghanaian rhymes like “Mummy’s in the kitchen cooking rice-water, daddy’s in the living room, watching TV…”. She probably heard this message every time her brothers were allowed to go out and play while she had to stay in the kitchen and learn to cook for her future husband; when her parents constantly told her to ‘stay away from boys and men’, hinting that if any boy or man harmed her it was because she let it happen, yet never once would she hear them tell her brothers not to rape or sexually assault girls or assume girls’ bodies belong to them.

She probably heard it in church when the pastor stressed the need for women to ‘submit’ to men, ‘as Christians do the Church.’ She was given supposedly divine justification of her inferiority. And the rapist was given divine justification for his entitlement.

The problem of sexual harassment in schools is rooted in patriarchy and quite a lot of the time, it is harassment and rape infringed on students by other students. In a patriarchal society, it would mean that teenagers learn about sex through the most unhealthy and violent paradigms of problematic gender role stereotyping. In a patriarchal sex education, consent is non-existent.

Girls learn fast that their bodies do not belong to them and that they are prey, and boys learn fast that they are predators and are allowed to get away with all sorts of violence.

The facts of this reality range from leaked nude photos on twitter of minors to twelve-year-old girls who are forced to engage in other uncomfortable sexual  acts because they want to be liked by boys, yet want to protect their hymen to keep up a semblance of virtue, virtue that would ensure they keep this boy’s respect. Because you see, in the patriarchal philosophy of sex, once a boy has any sexual encounter with a girl, she somehow ‘loses value’ while he gains accolades.

No matter if this is achieved through violent means.  ‘Kiss and Tell’ was a common occurrence during my time in high school, where boys would share with other boys their sexual exploits with girls and usually everyone in the class or school would know. This usually invites even more harassment and shaming. Kissing and Telling was a high school system by which girls were policed and essentially terrorized into standards of sexuality that punished them at every turn. You learnt quickly that you were sexual prey and it will be announced when you were ‘caught.’

I believe to properly tackle the problem of sexual harassment in schools we need to revolutionize our sex education. In many schools, there is no sex education at all. And in those where there are some forms of sex education, it is essentially a half-education rooted in biology and nothing about human behaviour; an education that teaches only that girls can get pregnant and ignore the surrounding violent climate of sexual relationships. You find that a lot of teenagers turn to pornography as a teaching tool. It is no wonder then that dangerous notions about sex and sexual behaviour are learnt and enacted.

My dream sex education kit will be rooted in gender theory, through the lens of dismantling patriarchy. It would include activities that would push teenagers to unlearn patriarchal gender notions, include modules on Value systems [and approaching this from a humanitarian rather than religious point of view], modules on communicating in relationships, modules on gender equality, debunk myths and misconceptions about sex, teach a consent culture to end a rape culture, body intergrity and being sexually safe and healthy, as well as teach bystander interventions.

I also would hope that this education is tied to the larger institutions such that there are safe, non-judgmental spaces for students to report sexual assault, harassment and rape, spaces where perpetrators get punishment. And I hope that this sex education is mainstreamed in every aspect of the school curriculum, fine-tuned to the point of ensuring that even the language teachers use to teach does not perpetuate harmful gender norms and gender role stereotypes.

My bigger dream, however, is that a consent culture is mainstreamed in every grain of society and may we reflect on what that would look like as we commemorate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence.  As we hashtag #16daysofactivism, let us remember It is only when our homes, churches, mosques, shrines, offices, and internet communities are free from patriarchy that erasing sexual harassment in schools would be a sustainable achievement.

 

This article is published as part of an online campaign by the Gender Based Violence Prevention Network, coordinated by the Uganda-based organisation Raising Voices, to prevent violence against women. Use the hashtag #16daysofactivism to join the conversation, or check out @GBVNet via Twitter or visit the GBV Facebook page

 

 
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